3D Printing’s potential is expanding in various sectors, enabling the production of complex parts, personalized apparel and sustainable materials.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a lucrative industry that is rising in popularity. It involves creating 3D objects—like hearing aids, shoes and even homes—by layering thin materials (e.g. wood, plastic, metal, etc.). In 2022, the 3D printing market was valued at US$18.33 billion and is projected to reach US$83.90 billion by 2029.
Although the technology has existed for over thirty years, it grew to fame in 2005 with the launch of the RepRap project (an open-source initiative). The RepRap project created the first open-source low-cost desktop 3D printers, making 3D printing accessible to anyone with a computer.
3D printing can produce small components and parts in nearly any shape, making it useful in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare and even the fashion industry. It helps reduce costs while creating parts that may perform better than conventional alternatives.
Unlike conventional parts, which are limited by pre-existing designs, 3D printing simplifies the prototyping process and allows manufacturers to design complex, innovative parts with qualities like heat resistance, higher strength or water repellency. It also reduces manufacturing waste and enhances part precision by using filaments to print out parts from a variety of materials.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what industries are utilizing 3D printing and revolutionizing the scope of their operations.
The manufacturing industry is a significant contributor to carbon emissions, responsible for one-fifth of the total generated. The sector’s carbon footprint results from energy consumption during production and transportation through established supply chains. In response to growing environmental concerns, some businesses exploring 3D printing as a means to promote sustainability.
One advantage of 3D printing is its ability to reduce raw material waste. Traditional manufacturing typically involves cutting down a large block of material to create a desired shape, resulting in waste. In contrast, 3D printing uses additive manufacturing, which builds parts from filaments, resulting in less waste and requiring fewer resources.
To further reduce waste and energy consumption, businesses can adopt sustainable manufacturing practices in 3D printing, such as by using recycled materials. Several companies, such as GreenGate3D, Filamentive, NefilaTek, Refil and RePLAy 3D, produce fully or partially recycled filaments (made with recycled plastic) for 3D printers rather than the commonly used thermoplastic filaments.
Finally, 3D printing is more eco-friendly than traditional manufacturing, as it uses less energy and reduces the emissions generated by transporting parts. Since products can be made on-site, businesses can save time and energy by avoiding transportation of parts made in different parts of the world. Additionally, when a manufacturer needs a part urgently, they can 3D Print it instead of transporting it, further reducing transportation emissions.
Since 1989, the aerospace industry has utilized 3D printing to develop lighter aircraft parts, reducing the aircraft’s weight and in turn the overall costs. A plane’s weight impacts fuel consumption and speed, so lighter aircraft means longer travel distances without increased fuel usage. Moreover, 3D printing allows for increased functionality through “functional integration”, reducing the number of components and cutting down on weight.
Also, incorporating 3D printing into the design workflow allows for more contemporary and innovative designs by facilitating prototyping and efficient testing at a lower cost. Commercial aircraft makers and engine suppliers, like Airbus, Boeing and GE Aviation, have adopted 3D printing, mainly parts for engines and airframes.
Fashion and cosmetics
The fashion industry has long struggled to become sustainable, as it is responsible for producing 10% of global carbon dioxide output. Discarded textiles are a significant part of waste, and the industry needs to overcome this problem to become more sustainable.
Unlike traditional manufacturing, it doesn’t involve cutting or sewing the material. It simply generates the article of clothing using overlapping layers of fabric. It also allows textile manufacturers to recycle discarded or unwanted textiles into newer clothes.
Several companies and high fashion brands are using 3D printing to create apparel. For instance, Adidas has rolled out ranges of personalized sneakers, such as the Futurecraft 4D (April 2017) and the AlphaEDGE 4D LTD (2018), which are made with 3D printed midsoles (the layer of foam that determines the weight and cushioning of a pair of sneakers).
World-renowned fashion designers are also incorporating the technology into their garment making process. For instance, Tel Aviv-based designer Danit Peleg makes printable clothing with sustainable materials, and Dutch designer Iris van Herpen creates 3D printed haute couture gowns, some of which were worn by celebrities like Winnie Harlow, Dove Cameron and Teyana Taylor at the 2022 Met Gala.
3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing, aircraft making and fashion. From creating complex airplane components to personalized fashion items, 3D printing is driving efficiency and sustainability while enabling mass-scale customization. As the technology develops, its potential and applications will continue to expand, making it a critical tool across various industries.
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